Literature: Dickens’s take on the “Boz Ball” Dickens's take on the "Boz Ball"

British author Charles Dickens dedicated an account of his travels in the United States “to those friends of mine in America who, giving me a welcome I must ever gratefully and proudly remember, left my judgement free; and who, loving their country, can bear the truth, when it is told good-humouredly, and in a kind spirit.”

And the truth was,

Dickens had reservations about the integrity of the American press and a culture that seemed a bit full of itself.

Wrote Dickens:

From American Notes for General Circulation
Schools may be erected, East, West, North, and South; pupils be taught, and masters reared, by scores upon scores of thousands; colleges may thrive, churches may be crammed, temperance may be diffused, and advancing knowledge in all other forms walk through the land with giant strides: but while the newspaper press of America is in, or near, its present abject state, high moral improvement in that country is hopeless. Year by year, it must and will go back; year by year, the tone of public feeling must sink lower down; year by year, the Congress and the Senate must become of less account before all decent men; and year by year, the memory of the Great Fathers of the Revolution must be outraged more and more, in the bad life of their degenerate child.
Among the herd of journals which are published in the States, there are some, the reader scarcely need be told, of character and credit. From personal intercourse with accomplished gentlemen connected with publications of this class, I have derived both pleasure and profit. But the name of these is Few, and of the others Legion; and the influence of the good, is powerless to counteract the moral poison of the bad.

From The Dicken’s Ball, by William Preston Beazell:

In a letter to Mr. John  Forster,

Dickens gives his own account of the “Boz Ball,”
and also his early impressions of American newspapers.
Carlton-house, New York
Thursday, February Seventeenth, 1842
...As there is a sailing-packet from here to England tomorrow which is warranted (by the owners) to be a marvellous fast sailer, and as it appears most probable that she will reach home (I write the word with a pang) before the Cunard steamer of next month, I indite this letter. And lest this letter should reach you before another letter which I dispatched from here last Monday, let me say in the first place that I did dispatch a brief epistle to you on that day, together with a newspaper, and a pamphlet touching the Boz ball; and that I put in the post-office at Boston another newspaper for you containing an account of the dinner, which was just about to come off, you remember, when I wrote to you from that city.
About half past 2, (Saturday) we arrived here. In half an hour more, we reached this hotel, where a very splendid suite of rooms was prepared for us; and where everything is very comfortable, and no doubt (as at Boston) enormously dear. Just as we sat down to dinner, David Colden made his appearance; and when he had gone, and we were taking our wine, Washington Irving came in alone with open arms. And here he stopped, until ten o’clock at night. (Through Lord Jeffrey, with whom he was connected by marriage, and Macready, of whom he was the cordial friend, we already knew Mr. Colden; and his subsequent visits to Europe led to many years’ intimate intercourse, greatly enjoyed by us both). Having got so far, I shall divide my discourse into four points. First, the ball. Secondly, some slight specimens of a certain phase of character in the Americans...
Firstly, the ball.
It came off last Monday (vide pamphlet). “At a quarter past 9, exactly,” (I quote printed order of proceeding), we were waited upon by “David Colden, Esquire, and General George Morris;” habited, the former in full ball costume, the latter in full dress uniform of Heaven knows what regiment of militia. The general took Kate, Colden gave his arm to me, and we proceeded downstairs to a carriage at the door, which took us to the stage door of the theatre: greatly to the disappointment of an enormous crowd who were besetting the main door, and making a most tremendous hullaballoo. The scene of our entrance was very striking. There were three thousand people present in full dress; from the roof to the floor, the theatre was decorated magnificently; and the light, glitter, glare, show, noise, and cheering, baffle my descriptive powers. We were walked in through the centre of the centre dress-box, the front whereof was taken out for the occasion; so to the back of the stage, where the mayor and other dignitaries received us; and we were then paraded all round the enormous ball-room, twice, for the gratification of the many-headed. That done, we began to dance — Heaven knows how we did it for there was no room. And we continued dancing until, being no longer able even to stand, we slipped away quietly, and came back to the hotel. All the documents connected with this extraordinary festival (quite unparalleled here) we have preserved; so you may suppose that on this head alone we shall have enough to show you when we come home. The bill of fare for supper, is, in its amount and extent, quite a curiosity.
Now, the phase of character of the Americans which amuses me most,
was put before me in its most amusing shape, by the circumstances attending this affair. I had noticed it before, and have since, but I cannot better illustrate it than by reference to this theme. Of course I can do nothing but in some shape or other it gets into the newspapers. All manner of lies get there, and occasionally a truth so twisted and distorted that has as much resemblance to the real fact as Quilp’s leg to Taglioni’s. But with his ball to come off, the newspapers were if possible unusually loquacious; and in their accounts of me, and my seeings, sayings and doings on the Saturday night and Sunday before, they describe my manner, mode of speaking, dressing, and so forth. In doing this, they report that I am a very charming fellow (of course), and have a very free and easy way with me; “which,” say they, “at first amused a few ‘fashionables;’ but soon pleased them exceedingly.” Another paper, coming after the ball, dwells upon its splendor and brilliancy; hugs itself and its readers upon all that Dickens saw; and winds up by gravely expressing its conviction, that Dickens was never in such society in England as he has seen in New York, and that its high and striking tone cannot fail to make an indelible impression on his mind! For the same reason I am always represented, whenever I appear in public, as being “very pale;” “apparently thunderstruck;” and utterly confounded by all I see...
You recognize the queer vanity which is at the root of all this?
I have plenty of stories in connection with it to amuse you with when I return.

Pin It button on image hover